North Korea on Friday said six people have died from Covid-19 and symptoms of fever were newly reported among more than 18,000 people nationwide the previous day, as leader Kim Jong-un formally blamed loopholes in the country's virus control and prevention system.

North Korea has so far refused to accept millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccine proposed in the COVAX global distribution programme, as it had claimed to be coronavirus-free, with strict border controls in place over the past two years against the pandemic.

"On May 12 alone, some 18,000 persons with fever occurred nationwide and as of now up to 187,800 people are being isolated and treated," Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a report.

It reported six Covid-19 deaths, including one linked with the Omicron variant, Yonhap News Agency quoted the KCNA report as saying.

The announcement came a day after Pyongyang acknowledged the coronavirus outbreak in the secretive country and declared a shift to a "maximum emergency" antivirus system.

Since late April, an unknown fever spread "explosively" across the North with a population of 24 million, affecting 350,000 people, according to the KCNA.

It added that 162,200 people have been fully treated so far.

The North's leader, meanwhile, inspected the state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters on Thursday, the KCNA reported.

During his inspection, Kim "criticised" a failure to ward off the spread of Covid-19.

"The simultaneous spread of fever with the capital area as a centre shows that there is a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system," he was quoted as saying.

He called on all provinces, cities and counties to lock down their areas to prevent the further spread of the "malicious virus".

Kim also urged public health authorities to thoroughly observe all patients with symptoms of fever, set up scientific treatment methods and further strengthen the country's measures for supplying medicine.

"It is the most important challenge and supreme tasks facing our Party to reverse the immediate public health crisis situation at an early date, restore the stability of epidemic prevention and protect the health and wellbeing of our people," he said.

On Thursday, the North announced its first case of Covid-19.

Kim appeared in public wearing a mask for the first time as he presided over an emergency politburo meeting.

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